Ultrasonic fingerprint scanners: how do they work?

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus Fingerprint reader

After a few years lurking in backroom prototypes and inside a few quickly forgotten handsets, ultrasonic fingerprint sensors are ready for prime time. The technology is built into Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus, making the technology almost guaranteed to be securing millions of thumbprints by the year’s end.

In December 2018, Qualcomm announced its 3D ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor. This technology is enabled in devices using the company’s Snapdragon 855 platform as an option if the manufacturer wants to include the extra hardware. Ultrasonic fingerprint technology has its own pros and cons versus traditional capacitive scanners and even other in-display fingerprint designs. Here’s everything you need to know.

How ultrasonic fingerprint scanners work

Qualcomm’s 3D in-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is based on what used to be called Sense ID. Rather than existing photographic or capacitive-based fingerprint scanners, ultrasonic fingerprint scanners make use of very high-frequency ultrasonic sound. You can’t hear it, but these waves are used to map out the details of the user’s fingerprint. Fortunately, there’s no need to swipe, just touch the finger to the sensor like the top of the line capacitive fingerprint scanners.

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To actually capture the details of a fingerprint, the hardware consists of both a transmitter and a receiver. An ultrasonic pulse is transmitted against the finger that is placed over the scanner. Some of this pulse’s pressure is absorbed and some of it is bounced back to the sensor, depending upon the ridges, pores and other details that are unique to each fingerprint.

There isn’t a microphone listening out for these returning signals. Instead, a sensor that can detect mechanical stress is used to calculate the intensity of the returning ultrasonic pulse at different points on the scanner. Scanning for longer periods of time allows for additional depth data to be captured, resulting in a highly detailed 3D reproduction of the scanned fingerprint.

Qualcomm notes that there’s about a 250-millisecond latency for unlocking, roughly equivalent to capacitive fingerprint scanners. The sensor has about a 1 percent error rate, which again is pretty comparable to other scanners.

Pros of ultrasonic fingerprint vs capacitive scanners

Ultrasonic fingerprint technology works very differently to capacitive fingerprint scanners, which are only able to reproduce 2D images. 3D details are much more difficult to forge or fool than a 2D image, making the ultrasonic system much more secure. It goes without saying that ultrasound is also much more secure than optical fingerprint scanners, which have all but fallen out of favor.

In-display scanners like those inside the OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate 20 Pro are optical not ultrasonic.

Another added perk of this ultrasonic fingerprint scanner technology is that it allows the fingerprint scanner to still operate through thin materials, such as glass, aluminum, or plastic. The sensor is just 0.15 millimeters thick and can scan through up to 800 µm of glass and up to 650 µm of aluminum. Therefore, the scanner can be embedded under the case or under the display as we’re seeing in the Samsung Galaxy S10, allowing for a more discrete look and thinner bezels.

Because the sensor uses ultrasonic waves, the sensor can also double up as a health tracker that can record heart rate and blood flow. Additionally, there’s less chance of damaging the sensor or exposing it to external tampering, and sweat or moisture on the finger won’t interfere with the scanning process either.

Scanning is just half the process

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Of course, there’s still plenty to be done with this fingerprint data and keeping it secure is an equally important part of the system.

As will all biometric security systems, processing and security highly sensitive personal information security are key. Qualcomm’s processors are built with dedicated security tools, including Cryptographic Accelerators, Key Provisioning Security, and a Trusted Execution Environment. This ensures that the processing and storage of sensitive data are kept well away from malicious applications. Other Arm-based processors offer TrustZone hardware isolation for similar levels of protection.

Qualcomm’s setup is also designed to support the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance protocols, which can be used for online password-less authentication. FIDO does this without transferring any of the confidential fingerprint information to the cloud or through networks that could be compromised.


Ultrasonic fingerprint scanners certainly have a number of advantages of existing capacitive implementations and given the prevalence of Qualcomm processors in mobile products. 3D ultrasonic fingerprint scanners are now ready for prime time and it’s possible that we’ll see many more manufacturers adopt this technology throughout 2019.

RFID blocking wallets – what are they, and should you get one?

Lowcards

Even in this age of Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, where you can use virtual payments to purchase items in real stores and restaurants with your smartphone, the “old fashioned” credit card and debit card isn’t going away anytime soon. With that said, many people who use them are afraid that the payment information that’s on those cards could be lifted by hackers, even if they remain inside a wallet.

That fear includes the newer credit and debit cards that have RFID chips inside. That’s why some folks who use those kinds of cards are buying RFID blocking wallets, which are supposed to keep hackers from taking your payment information. But what is an RFID blocking wallet, and do you even need to get one? That’s what we are going to talk about in this article.

What is an RFID credit/debit card?

RDIF stands for “Radio Frequency Identification”. The hardware inside an RFID-based device is basically a small chip and a radio antenna. RDIF chips are used in a number of products and devices. For example, you can tag luggage with an RFID chip so you can track it and never have to worry about losing it during a flight. RFID chips are also used to track and identify livestock animals and even pets.

In the case of an RFID credit and debit card, the chip contains your payment information, and you can simply touch the card to a compatible reader to pay for items, rather than swiping a card with a magnetic strip or inserting the card with another chip.

What is an RFID blocking wallet?

There are many concerns that hackers could use devices to intercept the radio signal that is generated by an RFID credit or debit card and lift your payment info from that card, even if it is in your wallet. If you buy an RFID blocking wallet, it should block any radio waves generated by your RFID card, and thus you should be safe from any hacking attempts.

Do you need an RFID wallet?

The short answer to this question, in our opinion, is “Maybe”. While it’s true that the vast majority of RFID chips in credit cards have not been skimmed by radio hackers, it has been reported out in the wild by a few people. Therefore, getting an effective RFID blocking wallet should give you an extra amount of security, as well as some peace of mind. In other words, while the odds of being hacked aren’t ultra-high it doesn’t hurt to be safe, rather than sorry later.

Best RFID blocking wallets

Here’s a look at the best RFID blocking wallets you can buy at the moment, and as you will see there’s quite a variety to choose from; from very traditional wallets to high-tech products to keep your credit cards safe.

Alpine Swiss Men’s RFID Wallet

Here’s a very traditional men’s wallet from Alpine Swiss, with slots that will hold up to 10 credit and debit cards, plus an ID window slot. According to the company, this RFID wallet will shield them, while also allowing other cards that use different frequencies, such as ID badges, hotel cards, and some transit cards, to be used while still inside the wallet. The leather material comes in three colors (black, gray and brown) and its available on Amazon for $14.99.

Roco Aluminum Money Clip RFID Wallet

If you are the sort of person who prefers a money clip-style wallet to store your cash and cards, check out this sleek looking product from Roco. This minimalist design can keep your RFID credit cards safe from hackers thanks to its aluminum material. Even with its slim design, you could hold as many as 20 credit cards inside if you really wanted to. You also have your choice of several different colors and designs for this money clip. It’s available on Amazon for $14.95.

Slimfold RFID Wallet

This RFID wallet comes from SlimFold, and it’s a pretty cool product for more than just its radio blocking features. It’s made of a special material that the company calls Soft Shell and it’s supposed to be just 0.55mm thick, which makes the wallet itself extremely thin. It can still hold up to 8 credit cards, along with cash. Once more,  the material is also waterproof and is extremely durable. All of those features come at a high price; the SlimFold RFID wallet costs between $45 and $48 on Amazon, depending on which color option you pick.

Ranger RFID Wallet

Here’s another pretty slim RFID blocking wallet from Ranger. It’s made of steel which should keep any skimming hacker away from your credit card info. While it’s extremely slim, it can still hold up to 8 credit or debit cards. Finally, this wallet comes with a flat multi-purpose tool, which can come in handy in certain situations. The flat rectangular tool can be used as a bottle opener, a  1/4 tool driver, a wrench that can support several U.S. and metric sizes, and a flathead screwdriver. You can get this RFID wallet from Amazon for $36.

Bryk RFID Wallet

RFID wallet

Our final RFID wallet comes from Bryk, and as you can see its a pure stainless steel product, which makes it look great as well as offering a material that should block RFID signals. It even comes in a very nice case if you want to give it to a family member, co-worker or friend as a gift. It also comes with a latch that should keep your cards and cash secure and safe against physical issues and threats. It can hold up to seven credit or debit cards, and it even comes with a lifetime guarantee. You can get the Bryk RFID blocking wallet in regular stainless steel, or in a black stainless steel color, from Amazon for the price of $15.97.

That’s our look at RFID wallets and why it might be a good idea to get one. Are you thinking about getting such a wallet? Let us know in the comments!

Best Google Assistant devices for your home: Our top 10

Google Assistant launched less than three years ago, but in that short period of time, the machine learning-based digital helper has expanded its reach from smartphones and smartwatches to speakers and many other Google Assistant devices for the home. Indeed, at CES 2019, it was announced that Google Assistant devices were expected to reach over 1 billion products by the end of January 2019.

Google sells its own smart speakers with Google Assistant support under the Google Home brand, and there are many other third-party smart speaker products you can buy that have Google Assistant support as well. However, there are many, many other Google Assistant devices you can check out. We have a quick list of the best Google Assistant devices you can get for your home. Some of them have the digital helper built-in, while others need a Google Home or another Google Assistant compatible smart speaker to use its voice commands. 

Best Google Assistant compatible devices (built-in)

NVIDIA Shield TV

Android TV is Google’s smart television operating system, and it’s actually one of the best you can use. If you don’t have a smart TV, or if you have one and are not happy with its app selections or features, you should check out the NVIDIA Shield TV set-top box. It will add Android TV support to any big screen television, and it also supports Google Assistant natively. That means you can use your voice (if you also have the Shield controller) to command the Shield TV to launch apps like Netflix, YouTube and more. You can play, pause or reverse videos on those services with your voice, and you can learn more about the shows you are watching as well with voice commands. The set-top box also lets you control other Google Assistant compatible devices as well from the Shield TV.

NVIDIA also continues to update the Shield TV with new features like support for HDR video, and most importantly support for NVIDA’s GeForce Now game streaming service which allows you to play over 400 PC games from Valve’s Steam service on the Shield TV device.

Sony TVs with Android TV and Google Assistant

Smart home gadgets

Android TV has also been directly installed on a number of smart TVs. Sony’s lineup of big-screen TVs are the biggest brand with Android TV out of the box, and that means they also have Google Assistant built in the TVs. As with the NVIDIA Shield TV box, you can command Sony’s smart TV’s with your voice to launch apps, look up information and much more.

Smart TVs with Android TV and Google Assistant installed are also available from other companies, including Sharp and Hisense.

Acer Chromebook Spin 13

Many Chromebooks come with Google Assistant support out of the box. That includes the Acer Chromebook Spin 13, which is our current pick for the best Chromebook you can buy. You can use voice commands to bring up information and more on this Chromebook. It has a 13.5-inch, 13.5-inch, 2,256 x 1,504 IPS touchscreen display with a 3:2 aspect ratio that rotates with its 360-degree hinge. This Chromebook also comes with its own stylus, which docks in the base of the Chromebook. You can get this Chromebook for as low as $ 749.99 with an Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 64GB onboard storage.

Best Google Assistant compatible devices (add-0n)

Nest Thermostat, Protect and Hello

Smart home gadgets

One of the best Google Assistant devices is the Nest Thermostat. Nest was originally set up as a separate subsidiary to Google’s parent company Alphabet, but more recently the Nest team was integrated into Google’s hardware unit. The Nest thermostat is designed to work with Google Assistant, via your Android phone or your Google Home speaker. Nest offers a number of advantages over the traditional thermostat including adjusting the temperature when you’re away from the house and learning your household habits to schedule changes appropriately. It responds to remote control from the Google Home or the Nest app.

Nest also has a little brother, the Nest Thermostat E, which brings a lot of the same functionality, but at a lower price point. Plus, most utility companies offer rebates on the equipment, bringing your costs down even lower.

Of course, if you’d like a different smart thermostat, we have a list of the best smart thermostats to help you with your decision. Think the process will be too hard? Installing a Nest is easier than you might think

Smart home gadgets

Continuing on with the Nest line of products, the division also releases smoke and CO alarms until the Nest Protect brand that work with Google Assistant gadgets. Normally, we wouldn’t give much thought to a smoke or CO detector. Chances are you already have both of these in your home. But adding a little bit of intelligence to this tech is not a bad idea. For example, a Nest Protect can link to your Nest Thermostat, via Google Assistant, and automatically cut off your heating equipment in the event of a fire or CO leak. It’s this kind of intelligence that can help mitigate a disaster.

Smart home gadgets

One of the more recent Nest products is a smart doorbell, the Nest Hello, Once you install it, it allows you to see who’s at the door and even communicate with them with your smartphone or tablet. Some models will even recognize frequent visitors and can announce them with your Google Home speaker.

Samsung SmartThings Hub V3

Samsung's SmartThings hub version 3 on Amazon. Amazon

Many of the Google Assistant devices made for the smart home, but not all, do require a hub device to work. Samsung’s SmartThings Hub is perhaps the best of these kinds of products, and the company recently released the third generation model of the SmartThings Hub.

The hub will allow you to control a large number of Google Assistant compatible products, including smart bulbs, cameras, locks, and much more. Samsung also sells a number of SmartThings add-on products to help extend your smart home experiences, including motions sensors for lights and cameras, smart plugs for lights and more. While this new version of the hub lacks a battery backup as the second generation version did, it’s the current product to beat for people who want to link up their Google Assistant devices. 

Nest x Yale smart lock

An official image of the Nest x Yale Smart Lock. Nest

In 2018, Nest teamed up with the connected smart lock company Yale in a partnership that allows Yale smart locks to work with Google Assistant devices like Google Home. The Yale x Nest smart lock will allow you to open or lock down doors with the Yale product installed just with your voice. You can also use voice commands to find out if you left the door unlocked or lock. You can also give anyone who you want to enter the house their own passcode, and you can monitor who has been entering or leaving your home.

LIFX Smart LED Light Bulb

Smart home gadgets

Smart bulbs in your home can be quite convenient. Controlling lights while you’re away is a good way to make people think you’re home. Remotely turning on lights when you’re on your way home is a great way to avoid walking into a dark house. LIFX bulbs are nice because they do not require any kind of hub or controller to work; they just need to connect to a Google Home speaker to enable its Google Assistant devices support.

In addition, these smart bulbs also connect to Nest products. For example, if the Nest Protect smoke and CO alarm sensors detect a fire, LIFX bulbs will pulse red and then turn themselves on to full brightness, illuminating your way to get out of the house. Nest cameras can detect that the house is empty, and trigger LIFX bulbs to switch to a dimmer/lower power mode to help conserve electricity. It’s all of these integrations that make a smart home really start to come together.

Phillips hue lighting starter kit

Smart home gadgets

 

Phillips is one of the bigger names in smart lighting and its Hue lineup of smart bulbs are highly popular. While they are also Google Assistant compatible, the Phillips Hue bulbs fo require a Hub Bridge to connect the bulbs to your Google Home and Nest devices. They can also help to save power when you’re away from home.

Smart home gadgets Amazon

If you have smart home gadgets — or just lights — that you just want to turn on or off, TP Link has a smart plug you can use with your phone or with Google Assistant. Best of all, you won’t need an extra hub like the Samsung SmartThings device for this smart plug to work. The included TP Link app allows you to schedule time for devices that are plugged into the smart plug. You can also set an away mode which turns lights or appliances on at random for some extra security. The compact design is so small it doesn’t block adjacent outlets.

10. Chamberlain Smart Garage Hub

Google Assistant devices Amazon

Once upon a time, you had to have a button attached to your car’s visor to make your garage door open and close. Those days are gone now, as garage doors have joined the smart home revolution. The Chamberlain Smart Garage Hub connects to your existing opener and allows you to check the status of your garage door, and even raise or lower the door as needed. You can even receive alerts when your garage door opens and closes. You can control your garage door with Google Home as a Google Assistant device, but that requires a $1/mo or $10/year subscription.

 

Extra – Samsung Smart TVs (later in 2019)

The Samsung smart TV with iTunes. Samsung

In addition to the many Android TV smart televisions and set-top boxes that are available with Google Assistant built-in, Samsung recently announced that its 2019 lineup of smart TVs would have limited support for Google Assistant.  If you also own a Google Home or another Google Assistant device, you will be able to use voice commands to turn the new Samsung smart TVs on or off, along with changing channels or the input source. You can also turn the volume up and down with a Google Assistant voice command, or launch specific smart TV apps. Look for those Samsung smart TVs to be released later in 2019.

Google Assistant devices for the home – wrap up

So that’s it for our favorite smart home gadgets that are also Google Assistant devices. However, as we have stated, there are a large number of Google Assistant devices made for smart homes that we have not even touched upon. Which ones would you recommend be put on this list? Let us know in the comments.

These are the best Android phones for power users

A photo of a man using the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, one of the best phones for power users.

Smartphones are incredibly useful tools no matter which way you look at them, packing plenty of features into a compact form factor. But what if you specifically need a device for productivity purposes? Or maybe you need a Swiss Army Knife that offers a feature for every eventuality?

There are plenty of Android phones for power users out there, so here are the devices you should be adding to your wishlist.


Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Samsung Experience Homescreen

Our 2018 Best of Android smartphone of the year is also one of the best Android phones for power users too, and there are plenty of reasons why.

The integrated S-Pen stylus enables some nifty functionality, such as controlling your presentations (if your phone is connected to an external screen) and jotting down notes. The former is a pretty handy use-case too, reducing the need to lug your laptop to work for that pitch meeting.

Editor’s Pick

The Galaxy Note 9 also offers a 4,000mAh battery that should give you plenty of juice for the day (with some to spare). It also marks the biggest battery in the Note range yet, while trouncing the Galaxy S9 Plus.

Core specs are cutting-edge too, offering a Snapdragon 845 or Exynos 9810 chipset, 6GB or 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 512GB (!) of expandable storage, and a 6.4-inch 1440p OLED screen. Toss in IP68 water resistance, a headphone jack, and wireless charging, and you’ve got one of the best flagships of the year. Just make sure you look around for a good deal, because the device starts at $999.


Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro took an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach, cramming almost every imaginable feature into its frame (save for a 3.5mm port). The biggest highlights are the triple rear camera setup (ultra wide, normal, telephoto), reverse wireless charging, and an in-display fingerprint sensor, but it also packs a few more useful features.

The 4,200mAh battery is probably the largest you’ll find in a mainstream flagship phone today, giving you a day and a half to two days of usage. But it also packs the fastest charging you’ll see, period, going from zero to 70 percent in just 30 minutes. So if you over-slept or simply don’t have time to fully charge your phone, it’ll work particularly well.

The biggest downside is that the phone ordinarily starts at 1,049 euros (~$1,217), making it $200 more expensive than Samsung’s flagship phablet. The lack of a headphone jack is also disappointing, but it’s tough to argue that you aren’t getting one of the better phones for power users and productivity in general.


Google Pixel 3

Google’s latest phone doesn’t have the biggest battery, the most storage, or the most cameras, but it has one massive advantage over Huawei and Samsung’s phones. Yep, you’ll be getting stock Android as well as the latest and greatest updates.

Read: Here are the best smartphones running stock Android

Even if you don’t care for pure Android, it’s tough to argue with Google’s commitment to feature and security updates. The company generally commits to two years of feature updates, and three years of security patches. The latter should provide for some peace of mind if you need a (figuratively) bullet-proof phone in your line of work.

But the Pixel 3 series also stands out thanks to its camera experience, offering a 12MP single rear camera and a dual-camera pairing up front. The Mountain View company’s photography efforts also earned it a gong in our best of Android awards.


OnePlus 6T

OyxgenOS Android Skin

OnePlus had a stellar 2018, and this is in large part due to the excellent critical and commercial reception to the OnePlus 6T. The phone definitely makes a few compromises compared to the more expensive devices on the list, but it’s tough to argue against its inclusion nonetheless.

The OnePlus 6T offers a speedy Snapdragon 845 chipset, 6GB to 8GB of RAM, and 128GB to 256GB of storage. This puts it on similar footing to the OnePlus 6, but the brand has also tossed in an in-display fingerprint sensor and a 3,700mAh battery (compared to the older phone’s 3,300mAh pack). 

But one of the best things about the phone is its OxygenOS skin, offering a feature-filled yet lightweight take on Android. Toss in the company’s commitment to updates and the developer community, and you’ve got another phone worth adding to the list.


BlackBerry Key2

blackberry key2 held in hand

Was there ever any doubt that the BlackBerry Key2 would make the list? TCL’s 2018 device cracks a nod based purely on the fact that it has a QWERTY keypad — a rarity in this day and age. Sure, virtual keyboards are often faster for many people, but the ability to assign apps to specific keys is pretty smart.

The phone also has a dedicated shortcut key (be it for the camera shutter, Play Music or Google Assistant), LG-style system profiles that change your settings depending on location, and a 3,500mAh battery that keeps on chugging. In fact, reviewers Jimmy Westenberg and David Imel both said they averaged between five and seven hours of screen-on time, while Jimmy said he’d regularly end the day with 40 percent capacity remaining.

Now if you consider a power user to be someone who needs the fastest, the Blackberry Key2 obviously doesn’t hold its own as well in this department. The addition of a mid-weight Snapdragon 660 chipset, 6GB of RAM, and 64GB to 128GB of expandable storage makes for a big improvement over the KeyOne‘s budget specs. But it’s far from a performance beast. Still, if your definition of a power user is someone who lives on his or her phone and needs it to fuel their productivity, the Key2 is hard to beat. 


Do you know of any other great phones for power users? Give us your picks in the comments! 

Pocophone F1 international giveaway!

It’s time for the Sunday giveaway! Like every week, we’re giving away another a brand new Android phone to one lucky Android Authority reader.

A big congratulations to the winner of last week’s Honor View 20 giveaway, Ali B. from Netherlands.

This week we’re giving away a brand new Pocophone F1, brought to you by the Android Authority app!

If you’re looking for the best way to stay up to date with AndroidAuthority.com, look no further than the AA app for Android. Available for free in the Google Play Store, the official AA app is the fastest way to get all the latest news, rumors, tips and tricks, and device reviews on your mobile device.

It’s fast, looks good, and gives you breaking Android news at your fingertips — what more could you want?

Nowadays, you can spend upwards of $1,000 on a smartphone. Or you can pay about a third of that and get the Pocophone F1.

We’re not going to tell you this is the best phone on the market — it’s not. But for just $300, it offers many of the same specs that you’d normally only get with the highest-end phones. The Pocophone F1 comes with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, 6 or 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of storage, and a big 4,000mAh battery.

Right now you shouldn’t care about the price, because we’re giving one away! For free! To learn more about the Pocophone F1, head to our related coverage below:

Enter the giveaway here

Pocophone F1 international giveaway!

Don’t miss: Jaybird Tarah giveaway

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Terms & conditions

  • This is an international giveaway (except when we can not ship to your country).
  • If we can not ship to your country, you will be compensated with an online gift card of equal MSRP value to the prize.
  • We are not responsible for lost shipments.
  • We are not responsible if your giveaway prize malfunctions.
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  • Only one entry per person; please do not enter multiple email addresses. We will verify all winners and if we detect multiple email addresses by the same person you will not be eligible to win.
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Sony in 2019: Playing catch-up

Sony Xperia logo - Sony review 2019

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Sony unleashed a metric ton of phones onto the market last year, as it isn’t exactly known for its restraint when expanding its mobile portfolio.

Unfortunately for Sony, those same phones also once again failed to capture a wide audience, with the Xperia brand still languishing among the doldrums of the global market share charts.

With a new year comes new opportunities, however. Let’s take a look at Sony’s 2018 in review and see how the Japanese giant can get itself back on track in 2019.

A year to forget

Sony logo - Sony review 2019

In our Sony in 2018 article we called for change, and 2018 certainly started with a huge adjustment for the storied firm. In February, former PlayStation boss and Ridge Racer fan Kazuo Hirai stepped down as CEO, replaced by the then finance chief Kenichiro Yoshida.

Yoshida, known internally as someone always keen on “imposing discipline and getting the job done,” quietly stuck to Hirai’s promise made just a month earlier that Sony would not be leaving the smartphone business.

The new CEO also delivered on his reputation as a numbers guy, slashing hardware targets across all divisions, citing a move towards digital services as a more reliable revenue stream. Sales of Sony’s TVs, cameras, games consoles, and, of course, smartphones were all predicted to slow down, and slow down they did — and then some.

After losing almost $100 million in Q1 2018, Sony’s mobile division then dropped over $480 million in Q2. In terms of actual handsets, Sony managed to sell just 2 million smartphones in Q2, down 1.4 million year-on-year. A further loss of just over $140 million followed in Q3 2018.

Sony Xperia XZ2 - Sony review 2019

The Sony Xperia XZ2

The results prompted Sony to further revise its overall smartphone sales target for the year from 10 million to 9 million.

Reflecting on Sony’s eye-watering decline in the mobile sector, Android Authority’s own Jimmy Westenberg contextualized the company’s new yearly target in a way that perfectly showcased the division’s relative struggles:

“For comparison’s sake, leaked sales numbers point to Samsung “only” selling around 9 million Galaxy S9 units in Q2 2018. That’s just for one quarter, not the whole year, and that’s just one phone.”

Like so many OEMs staring into the sales abyss in the face of growing consumer fatigue towards the smartphone industry as a whole, Sony blamed its slump on a lack of innovation. This was evident in the phones being released too, with Sony failing to jump on the elongated display bandwagon until the launch of the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact at Mobile World Congress 2018 — a full year after 18:9-style displays hit primetime.

Read more: Sony’s failing smartphone business should come as no surprise

The same company report that cited slow innovation also highlighted its regional issues, with sales in Europe reportedly well behind rival firms. Sony also failed once again to make any headway in emergent markets where Chinese OEMs reign supreme, the U.S. (where the lack of carrier partnerships is still a key concern), or in MEA regions where Sony has hinted it is considering downsizing its operations.

Yet, while the numbers clearly were not on Sony’s side, there were still some bright spots from a product and technological standpoint that could serve the company well in 2019 and beyond.

Glimmers of promise

While it wasn’t exactly the most original or inspiring redesign Sony’s designers are surely capable of producing, the Xperia XZ2 finally saw the brand take steps to at least evolve its tired OmniBalance smartphone template.

Gone were the dumb side-mounted fingerprint sensors and sharp square edges, replaced by a more modern, ergonomic look with a circular rear fingerprint reader, curved corners, and an 18:9 display.

The Xperia XZ3, launched in August, rectified even more long-lasting issues by finally switching display panels from LCD to OLED and stripping back the XZ2’s obscenely chunky top and bottom bezels (though still not enough for my liking).

After a years of outdated designs and crucial feature omissions, Sony has a blueprint to build on for its 2019 phones.

It even added a splash of AI by virtue of being the first phone from any company to hit the market running Android Pie out-of-the-box. It also got bonus points for not adopting any kind of notch, but immediately had them taken away again for not featuring a headphone jack.

The XZ2 Premium even jumped on the multi-camera trend, sporting a dual-lens rear shooter — a first for a Sony flagship.

It was all too little too late for any meaningful success in 2018, though, as consumers had seen it all before. But, after a year or so’s worth of flagships with outdated designs and crucial omissions, Sony at least has a blueprint to build on for its 2019 phones.

Editor’s Pick

At a more granular level, Sony also has wider technology innovations to fall back on that will continue to find their way into phones that don’t just bear the Xperia name.

This is true none more so than on the camera front. Sony’s 48 megapixel IMX586 sensor is expected to make its way to a bunch of phones throughout 2019, while the company’s recently revealed DepthSense 3D Time of Flight sensor seems to have arrived just in time to jump on a growing trend that will bring improved augmented reality and faster facial recognition to mobile devices.

As noted by Bloomberg, the cooling demand for smartphones across the board will inevitably have a knock-on effect on the sales of mobile-camera chips. Nevertheless, Sony’s components remain a strong backbone for many popular Android phones and, unlike other struggling OEMs like HTC, will continue to keep the company relevant in the sector even if/when its handsets fall flat.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Android Pie - Sony review 2019

Speaking of Android, Sony has also managed to claw back a fair amount of goodwill with its handling of Android Pie updates. As previously mentioned, the XZ3 was the first phone to launch running Pie and its predecessor, the Xperia XZ2, was among the select group of phones involved in the Android P developer preview. Sony has also been refreshingly upfront about its update roadmap.

Sony is also one of few remaining champions of the Android TV platform, pushing through new features to its Android TV-powered Bravia sets in 2018 and promising further updates in 2019. With Sony-made Google Assistant smart speakers also on store shelves, it’s clear Sony has a strong relationship with the search giant. Perhaps that’s a relationship we could see manifest in a more overt way in Sony’s phones in 2019? We could certainly do with more Android One phones that aren’t just Nokias.

Shifting the paradigm

Sony Xperia XZ3 in hand (front)

The Sony Xperia XZ3.

Despite all of the changes, Sony’s Xperia line is still lagging far behind the likes of Samsung, Huawei, and even LG in terms of sales, brand recognition, and product innovation.

The “why” behind those issues is manifold, but there are obvious problems that Sony needs to address immediately to stem the bleeding.

Pricing is a clear concern, with the head honchos at Sony HQ making some downright baffling decisions when picking out a price point for its phones. Not only did we get the XZ2 Premium launching with a totally unjustified $999 asking price, Sony also saddled the latest in its Compact family — the XZ2 Compact — with a $599 price that, when compared to similarly priced, but far more premium offerings from OnePlus and Honor, looked laughable.

Related: OnePlus in 2019: A force to be reckoned with

Criticism and bewilderment also summarized Sony’s absolutely astonishing choice to slap an outrageous 72,990 rupees. (~$1,062) price tag on the Xperia XZ2 in India — a lucrative region dominated by modestly-priced phones, mostly from Chinese brands.

It’s those same Chinese brands that are outmuscling traditional Android OEMs like Sony in an increasing number of global markets. Put simply, Sony’s choice to sit back and rely on its company’s historically strong brand name to carry it through just can’t compete against China’s ambitious, cash-flush firms.

It doesn’t help that Sony’s mobile brand — Xperia — has been rendered almost meaningless as a result of Sony’s own scattershot product family succession and naming conventions. Can you remember the difference between the Xperia XA2 Ultra and the Xperia XA2 Plus, two phones released in a single calendar year, without looking it up? I couldn’t.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra - Sony review 2019

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra. Not the Xperia XA2 Plus.

This “alphabet spaghetti” approach to naming phones pales in comparison to the fact that Sony managed to cannibalize interest in its XZ2 Premium flagship by announcing the Xperia XZ3 just a month after the former finally went on sale.

These naming and pricing faux pas, alongside Sony’s general refusal to do marketing for its phones and its tendency to lag behind in design and feature innovation, are all deep seated issues that Sony needs to address to remain relevant in 2019 and beyond.

While some (read: me) would much rather see Sony go for a full-blown rebrand with moonshot concepts like a PlayStation Phone, the more plausible options for Sony are gradual changes to its line-up, including potentially axing its Xperia Compact line.

Sony needs to show intent this year to avoid drifting further into market obscurity.

We’ll get our first taste of Sony’s strategy for 2019 at MWC 2019, where the Xperia XZ4 and Xperia XA3 series’ are expected to debut. The good news is that latter range looks like it’s getting a rebrand to the far simpler, more catchy Xperia 10 moniker, which would be a massive step in the right direction even if the phone(s) so far sounds a little underwhelming.

The real question, however, is if Sony can use these and any other strategy changes to springboard itself back into relevancy.

Sony’s execs have been justifying the firm’s continued presence in the smartphone market on the premise that it’s waiting for the industry’s next “paradigm shift.” The closest we’ve got to that admittedly nebulous scenario are foldable phones and 5G.

Editor’s Pick

Yet, despite big promises in business review strategy, Sony has so far remained relatively quiet on 5G in public (aside from a social media snafu) and completely silent on the prospect of a foldable Xperia phone.

Sony expects its previously discussed attack on Europe, 5G ambitions, and wider technology investments all to pan out by 2020. Unfortunately for Sony, its rivals won’t stand still while it plays catch-up, and with so many other OEMs all pushing hard on 5G and foldable phones with consumer-ready products just around the corner, Sony needs to show intent this year to avoid drifting further into market obscurity.


Do you think Sony has what it takes to make a comeback in 2019? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out our 2019 preview posts for other manufacturers via the links below.

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. 

OnePlus 7: Here’s what it needs to take on the best

OnePlus 7

The OnePlus 7 has to be more than just a minor upgrade over the OnePlus 6T to take on the best phones of 2019.

The upcoming flagship has to improve on the weaknesses of its predecessor and come with features OnePlus fans really want. Can the company do it, and still undercut competing flagships by a big margin?

The obvious fixes

The first thing the OnePlus 7 needs is a faster in-display fingerprint scanner. The one on the OnePlus 6T isn’t the best — it’s both slower and less accurate than traditional fingerprint readers typically located on the back of smartphones.

Sure, the OnePlus 6T arguably offered the best technology available at the time, but that excuse won’t work for the 7. Fingerprint sensing tech has advanced. Qualcomm announced the world’s first 3D ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor back in December, which can read fingerprints through contaminants like oil and water. Oppo also announced an improved in-display fingerprint scanner said to be 15 times larger than current solutions, and it can read two fingerprints at the same time for improved security. Xiaomi revealed something similar, and we can expect more companies to do the same in the near future.

A better in-display fingerprint reader would improve the overall user experience.

Using one of these solutions on the OnePlus 7 is essential, especially since most 2019 flagships are expected to feature an in-display fingerprint scanner, including the Galaxy S10 series.

The next thing the OnePlus 7 needs to take on the best of them is an IP rating (IP67 or IP68) for protection against water and dust. OnePlus fans have long requested this feature, which is present on most high-end phones released last year. The majority of 2019 flagships that will compete with the OnePlus 7 are expected to be waterproof as well, including the Galaxy S10, Huawei P30 Pro, and LG G8 ThinQ.

Having an IP rating gives you peace of mind that your expensive phone won’t stop working when you get caught in the rain or accidentally spill a glass of water on it. It’s a popular feature and it’s why many decided to skip the OnePlus 6T. Not including it on the OnePlus 7 would be a mistake.

The OnePlus 7 needs a better camera than its predecessor.

Top-tier phones stand out through the camera experience they provide, an area where OnePlus has never really shined. The cameras on the 6 and 6T aren’t bad and can take great-looking shots in well-lit conditions, but they struggle in low-light. OnePlus’ Nightscape tech helps a little in increasing sharpness and dynamic range, but the difference is hardly noticeable.

The company doesn’t have to equip the OnePlus 7 with three or four rear cameras to improve image quality. The Pixel 3, for example, is one of the best phones for photography on the market despite its single camera.

This is where OnePlus should focus, potentially improving Nightscape to make it competitive with Google’s Night Sight and Huawei’s Night Mode. A lot of phones — even budget ones — can capture decent images when there’s plenty of light, but only great ones can handle low-light photography. The OnePlus 7 should be one of them.

Another no-brainer is wireless charging. It’s in high demand, mainly because of the convenience it offers.

OnePlus 6T camera

Stand up on your own

This one’s subjective, but OnePlus fans might also appreciate a new and original design for the upcoming flagship. OnePlus tends to borrow designs from its sister-company Oppo — both brands are part of BBK Electronics. This copy-paste strategy should end with the OnePlus 7. It doesn’t sit well with many fans and gives the products a sense of cheapness OnePlus should definitely avoid.

Editor’s Pick

The OnePlus 7 needs to be a little bolder. A simple design element can make a big difference in the overall look of a device. Good examples of this are the Pixel 3 with its two-tone glass back and the older Huawei Mate 10 Pro‘s reflective stripe running horizontally across the cameras.

A photo from the OnePlus 6T pop-up event in New York City.

Thinking beyond the product itself, more carrier deals could bring the OnePlus 7 in front of more users, which could have a big impact on sales. Most phones in Western markets are sold through carriers, mainly because they are subsidized and can be paid off monthly. Better distribution would also improve OnePlus’ overall brand awareness. Since the company sells most of its phones online, a lot of consumers have never heard of it. Even those who have heard of OnePlus may not be comfortable buying a phone online before seeing it in person.

One of the drawbacks of this strategy is that it could reduce OnePlus’ margins, as the carriers would take a cut from each phone sold. However, OnePlus would likely still make more money overall due to the increase in sales.

What about pricing?

Oxygen OS

There’s a good chance the OnePlus 7 will be more expensive than its predecessors. I think most OnePlus fans will be able to live with a price hike, but only if the OnePlus 7 delivers some of the features mentioned in this post — and possibly a few additional ones. However, the company has to be careful not to jack up the price too high.

From day one, OnePlus has sold competitive devices for far less than handsets from Samsung, Huawei, and LG. This must not change with the OnePlus 7. Despite its popularity, the company’s brand is still not strong enough to charge $800 for the entry-level version of its flagship. At that price, most people will pick the latest Galaxy S or Pixel phone.

OnePlus could get away with raising pricing by up to $40.

The OnePlus 6T starts at $550, $20 more than its predecessor. The company could get away with charging up to around $40 more for the OnePlus 7 if it delivers in all the areas we’ve discussed. This would still make it considerably cheaper than Samsung’s latest Galaxy S series and high-end phones from LG, Huawei, and other brands.

People are willing to pay more for a device if it offers more value. OnePlus shouldn’t be scared to raise prices for adding extra features in high demand. Gimmicks are another matter. Things like adding 10GB of RAM — which is expected to happen on the OP7 — only increase the price without adding any true value.


Which features do you think the OnePlus 7 needs in order to grab more attention and outsell its predecessor? Let me know in the comments!

Everything you need to know about the upcoming Disney streaming service, Disney+

disney+ streaming service logo Disney

Disney announced well over a year ago that the company plans to launch its own streaming service for its many movie and TV properties. It would compete directly with services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and upcoming ventures like Apple’s streaming TV launch. Now we know what the Disney streaming service will be called: Disney+. As you can see with its official logo, the company is trying to show that Disney+ will link up organically with the rest of its properties.

Editor’s Pick

Disney is wasting no time in creating new content for the streaming service. Disney+ will be the home for lots of exclusive movies and TV series, and that includes new Pixar, Marvel Studios and Star Wars content. We will go over everything we know about the Disney streaming service, and will update this post with new information as it is revealed.

What is Disney+?

disney plus includes pixar marvel star wars national geographic

As mentioned, Disney+ is the official name for the Disney streaming service that was first announced in August 2017. It will be the home for people of all ages to watch movies and TV shows across all of Disney’s brands. That includes its main Disney brand, its Pixar animated movies, and its Marvel Studios and Star Wars properties.

At the service’s placeholder website, it also shows it will have content from National Geographic when it launches. That’s a bit interesting since 21st Century Fox currently owns the majority of the National Geographic cable TV channel. In December 2017, Disney announced its plan to acquire most of Fox’s content, including its majority control of the NatGeo TV channel. When Disney+ actually launches, it will have content from that channel as well, since the deal to acquire Fox is expected to close sometime in the first half of 2019.

Disney+ launch date, price, and availability

walt disney studios logo

At the moment, Disney is not revealing exactly when Disney+ will launch, other than a vague “late 2019” timeframe. No specific monthly price has been mentioned for the service. However, Disney CEO Bob Iger did tell Variety in August 2018 that he expects the cost to be lower than Netflix, as the Disney streaming service won’t have as much content as its biggest competitor at launch. Currently, Netflix charges $7.99 a month for its SD streaming content and $10.99 a month for its HD content.

Disney has also confirmed that Disney+ will launch first in the United States, although presumably, it would expand to other territories around the world if it has a successful U.S. launch. Disney does plan to reveal a lot more about its Disney+ launch plans during an investor event on April 11, 2019. That includes a first look at the interface for Disney+ plus previews of the first original shows and movies on the service.

What older movies and TV shows will Disney+ have?

mickey mouse first cartoon

When it does launch in late 2019, Disney will have access to hundreds of movies and TV shows from its 90 years of content. As we mentioned, that will include all those great animated films and live action movies from the Disney brand, from Mickey Mouse to Snow White to Beauty and the Beast to Frozen and everything in between. It will also include content that it has acquired over the years, such as the Pixar animated movies like Toy Story and The Incredibles. It will also include all of the Marvel Studios superhero movies and some of its Star Wars content. Finally, it will include TV shows from the National Geographic Channel.

See also: The best movies available now on Netflix

Because of a current contract with Netflix, the most recent films from the studio, such as Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, have made their streaming debuts on that service. Disney’s contract with Netflix ends in 2019. The New York Times reports that the first upcoming Disney movie that will make its streaming debut on Disney+ will be Captain Marvel. The Marvel Studios superhero film is currently scheduled to make its debut in movie theaters in March 2019., which means that it’s likely that it will be available on Disney+ as soon as it launches.

One big and important chunk of library content that may not show up on Disney+ anytime soon are the highly popular Star Wars live-action feature films. In 2016, Disney made a deal with WarnerMedia’s Turner cable TV networks to run all of the classic and current Star Wars films on its TBS, TNT, and TCM channels until 2024. This deal was made well before the idea of a Disney streaming service was given a green light. Bloomberg reports Disney has quietly tried to buy back those rights from Turner so it can show those Star Wars films on its service, but it appears that Turner has no interest in giving back those rights until the contract expires in six years.

What original movies and TV shows will Disney+ have?

anna kendrick cosplay disney Variety

In addition to its tons of library content, Disney seems to be going all out to develop original and exclusive TV shows and films for Disney+. Indeed, Deadline reports that the budgets for the exclusive movies could be as high as $35 million and that budgets for a 10-hour TV show could be as high as $100 million. Disney decided to pull a few of its upcoming films that were supposed to launch in theaters first, and now they will make their worldwide debut on the Disney streaming service.

Here’s a quick look at the original films and TV shows that are either in production now or have been completed ahead of the Disney+ launch

Disney+ original films

  • Noelle – a Christmas movie starring Anna Kendrick as the daughter of Santa Claus
  • Magic Camp – a family comedy centering on a summer camp for magicians
  • Timmy Failure – a movie based on the popular children’s book series of the same name
  • Lady and the Tramp – a live action-CGI remake of the classic Disney animated film
  • Stargirl – a movie based on the young adult novel of the same name
  • Togo – a movie based on the real-life story of a sled dog, Togo, and his master who have to transport a diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska in 1925

In addition, Disney is in early development for a ton of other movies for the streaming service, including remakes of many of its live-action comedies, such as Three Men and a Baby, Father of the Bride, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, and The Parent Trap. Also, live-action remakes of other classic Disney animated films are in development for Disney+, including The Sword in the Stone and Peter Pan.

Disney+ original TV shows

star wards disney tv show

Here’s a look at the TV shows that have been confirmed as being in development for Disney+:

  • The Mandalorian – A 10-episode live-action TV series based in the Star Wars universe and centering on an unnamed Mandalorian
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars – A continuation and conclusion to the cult-favorite animated TV series set in between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
  • Untitled Star Wars: Rogue One prequel series – a TV show that centers on rebel spy Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, before the events of Rogue One
  • Untitled Loki series – A TV show based on Loki, the popular Marvel Studios supervillain. Actor Tom Hiddleston will reprise that role for the series.
  • High School Musical – A reboot of the popular Disney Channel movie series
  • Monsters Inc – A TV show based on the universe of Pixar’s Monsters Inc and Monsters University animated films
  • Ink & Paint – A documentary TV series that will tell the story of the women who worked on Disney’s classic animated films
  • Diary of a Female President – A show about a 12-year old Cuban-American girl who is destined to become the President of the United States. This show will actually be made by CBS Studios, rather than by Disney.

In addition, unconfirmed reports claim that many more TV shows are in the early stages of development for Disney+, including two more Marvel Studios-based shows; one based on The Scarlet Witch and the other centering on The Winter Soldier and The Falcon. Other shows rumored to be in development include a female-centric remake of High Fidelity, a reboot of The Mighty Ducks, and a new Muppets TV show.

What about all of that Fox content and Hulu?

disney+ fox combination availability

As mentioned, Disney is planning to acquire much of the content of 21st Century Fox, with the deal to close sometime in the first half of 2019. That means Disney will have the movie and TV rights to franchises like Aliens, Predator, Avatar, Planet of the Apes, and the X-Men-Deadpool Marvel Comics characters. However, Disney+ will launch for a family audience, which means that much of Fox’s franchises, which are made for an older audience, won’t show up on the Disney streaming service.

hulu

The good news for Disney is that after the Fox deal is completed, it will also own 60 percent of Hulu, the streaming service that currently has about 20 million subscribers. Disney has indicated that it could offer content of the properties that it will acquire in the Fox deal on Hulu, rather than on Disney+.

That’s all we currently know about Disney+. What do you think of the Disney streaming service as it now stands, and do you plan to sign up for it when it launches?

Read more: The best streaming media devices

What is portrait mode and which phones have it?

A side-by-side comparison of two photos, one using a smartphone's Portrait Mode, and another using a basic mode.

There’s a good chance you use your smartphone to take pictures and capture video. There’s a relatively new feature a lot of smartphones have called portrait mode, and it can up your photography game big time if used properly. However, you might not know what portrait mode is or how it’s used. So what is portrait mode exactly? Good question.

Let’s examine portrait mode in an effort to separate the marketing jargon from the facts. We’ll also give you a list of current smartphones with portrait mode so you can make informed buying decisions.

Let’s get started!

What is portrait mode?

Portrait mode is a term used to describe the artificial bokeh (BOH-kay) effect produced by smartphones. Bokeh is a photography effect where the subject of a picture is kept in focus while the background falls out of focus. By using portrait mode to create a bokeh effect, you can take dynamic photographs which look more professional.

Years ago, if you wanted to take pro-quality photographs, you’d need a DSLR or analog camera. Nowadays, even mid-range smartphones can deliver exceptional results.

Editor’s Pick

However, one of the biggest historical limitations of smartphone photography had been the ability to simulate depth using bokeh. Without high focal lengths, large sensors, and control over focus, even high-end phones couldn’t create the blurred background effect.

Recently, though, advancements in computational photography — as well as the introduction of dual-lens smartphone cameras — have brought artificial bokeh to phones. Most smartphone manufacturers refer to this effect in marketing material as portrait mode. Additionally, the setting in most camera apps that creates bokeh is usually called “Portrait Mode” or simply “Portrait.”

Portrait mode examples

You know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. With that in mind, let’s check out some examples of photographs using portrait mode to create a bokeh effect. Below you’ll find a gallery of pictures captured with a variety of smartphones, all using the portrait mode setting.

As you scroll through the photos, pay attention to the backgrounds:

Google Pixel 2 camera

oneplus 6 portrait mode camera review


Portrait mode makes the subject of your photo really pop. Since the background is blurry, your eyes naturally gravitate towards the non-blurry section of the picture. It can be a powerful technique when used properly.

Editor’s Pick

However,  the images above are not “real.” The bokeh effect is not produced using just the smartphone’s lens (or lenses). Instead, the smartphone’s processor, software, and camera hardware work together to apply the bokeh effect to a non-bokeh image.

Because you’re relying on a computational algorithm to create portrait mode effects, results can vary. Check out the photo below where the phone’s portrait mode filter gets confused and can’t get the effect right:

An example how portrait mode can go wrong, with the subject's glasses being blurred out as if they were part of the background.

For some reason, the algorithm determined the edge of Lanh’s glasses was part of the background and thus blurred it out. If you were using a DSLR to take this photo and produced the bokeh effect using the lens itself rather than software, this problem wouldn’t happen.

However, when you’re using a smartphone to create a bokeh image, you don’t have to lug around a large DSLR, which is certainly advantageous. With that in mind, don’t let a few faulty images deter you. The algorithms responsible for portrait mode are only getting better, so problems will become less and less of an issue going forward.

Which phones support portrait mode?

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of portrait mode and how bokeh effects can make your photos better. However, how do you know if your smartphone supports the feature?

In general, most phones with at least two lenses paired together can produce portrait mode pictures. Some phones can produce the bokeh effect with just one rear lens (the Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 3 being the most notable examples), and some dual-lens phones can’t do portrait mode (like the LG V30). However, if a new phone has two lenses on the back, it’s a safe bet it does portrait mode shooting.

Editor’s Pick

Some smartphones are now shipping with two lenses on the front, too. This allows for portrait mode pics in selfie mode. However, there are phones with a single selfie lens that can also do portrait mode.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of recent smartphones that have portrait mode abilities with the rear camera at least. This list is not completely comprehensive in that there are likely other phones out there with portrait mode not included here, but we did include all the most popular releases.

There are also numerous ways to “hack” your phone to get portrait mode when it is not offered by the original OEM. However, we are not going to cover that here.


Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018)
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Samsung Galaxy A8 (2018)
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Samsung Galaxy J7 Pro

LG

LG V40 ThinQ LG G7 ThinQ
LG V35 ThinQ LG Q8

HTC

HTC U12 Plus HTC U12 Life

Sony

Sony Xperia XZ3 Sony Xperia XZ2

OnePlus

OnePlus 6T OnePlus 5T
OnePlus 6 OnePlus 5

Google

Google Pixel 3 & 3 XL Google Pixel 2 & 2 XL

Huawei

Huawei Mate 20 & Mate 20 Pro Huawei P20 & P20 Pro
Huawei Mate 10 & Mate 10 Pro Huawei P10 & P10 Plus

Honor

Honor View 20 Honor 8X
Honor View 10 Honor 7X

Xiaomi

Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro Xiaomi Pocophone F1
Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro
Xiaomi Mi A2 Xiaomi Mi A1

Vivo

Vivo Nex Vivo V11
Vivo X21 Vivo V9 Pro

Oppo

Oppo Find X Oppo R17 & R17 Pro
Oppo F9 Oppo R15 Pro

Motorola

Motorola Moto X4 Motorola Moto G6
Motorola Moto Z3 Motorola Moto Z2 Force

So now you know the answer to “what is portrait mode” as well as what phones currently offer it.