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Galaxy Note 8 ties iPhone 8 Plus in camera tests

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The iPhone 8 Plus’s reign as “the best smartphone camera” was a mighty short one. DxOMark, the testing outfit many look to for fair evaluations of cameras from DSLRs to phones, gave Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 a 94, tying the iPhone and in some ways exceeding it.

While its video is merely great and its background-blur algorithms unreliable, the Samsung gained on its competition with its outstanding detail and color in everyday settings and super-fast autofocus. Its zoom also outperformed the iPhone’s.

Low-light photos also showed less noise and more detail than its rivals, though HDR mode tended to clip highlights and highly backlit subjects didn’t turn out well. But we all know better than to shoot in a dark room against a bright window, right?

Of course, a lot depends on what you want the camera for, whether you need this or that mode, and, most importantly, whether you’d ever switch from iOS to Android, or vice versa.

But with a class-leading camera and display, the Note 8 is certainly a good bet if you’re deep into the mobile photography game. But with the Pixel 2 right around the corner, you might want to hold onto your wallet for just a little longer.

Featured Image: Darrell Etherington

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Samsung joins Microsoft’s VR parade with its new high-end headset for Windows 10

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Microsoft is getting ready to launch the next major update to Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update, on October 17. Part of this update includes full support for Windows Mixed Reality, the company’s name for the continuum between augmented reality and full virtual reality. After lining up support and headsets from partners like Acer, Dell HP and Lenovo, Microsoft also today announced that Samsung is bringing a virtual reality headset for room-scale VR to its platform.

Microsoft made this announcement at a small press event in San Francisco today.

The Samsung HMD Odyssey will feature full support for Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Platform and feature two AMOLED displays, inside-out tracking, a built-in microphone (for Cortana support) and the usual Windows motions controllers. The displays will offer a 110-degree field of view, which is on par with the Oculus Rift. What does set the Odyssey apart, though, is its per-eye resolution of 1440×1600 for the two 3.5″ displays with a 90Hz refresh rate, which is significantly higher than that of rival headsets.

One other interesting feature here is that Samsung has partnered with the Austrian headphone and microphone manufacturer AKG to offer built-in headphones.

“When we began designing and engineering the Samsung HMD Odyssey with Microsoft, there was only one goal in mind, create a high performing headset that’s easy to set up and can transport people to the incredible world of virtual reality,” writes Samsung Electronics America VP and General Manager Alanna Cotton today. “Samsung is committed to working across platforms to build cutting-edge technology, and we’re excited to partner with Microsoft to shape the future of virtual reality.”

Given its specs, this is clearly a premium headset — and quite likely the nicest one in the current mixed reality lineup. It’ll sell at a premium price, too, though. The full set with headset and motion controllers will cost $499 and will ship November 6, with pre-orders starting today. That’s the same price as an Oculus Rift.

It’s also worth noting that Samsung is going its own way here. Most of the other mixed reality headsets are going with Microsoft’s reference specs and LCD screens, which don’t refresh quite as fast as the AMOLED displays that Samsung is using here. The built-in headphones are also unique to Samsung’s headset.

Here is the current set of headsets you can expect to see in stores this fall:

  • Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset
  • Dell Visor
  • HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset
  • Lenovo Explorer
  • Samsung HMD Odyssey

Pre-orders for this first slate of mixed reality headsets starts today.

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Optoma’s NuForce BE Free8 wireless headphones are a smart AirPods alternative

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Optoma has released new fully wireless headphones under its ‘NuForce’ audio sub brand, the BE Free8 earbuds. These are like Apple’s AirPods, requiring no wire to connect them, and they connect via Bluetooth to any device. The charging pod they ship with even has a similar design to the AirPod case, and carries three backup charges for powering up on the go.

The NuForce Free8 carries up to four hours of use in the batteries built into the buds, and they come with a range of silicon tips to fit different ear canal shapes. They fit snugly in my own ear, and I was able to use them comfortably both when walking, and when running and working out, without any fear of them falling out.

While they don’t feel like super premium devices (the plastic used doesn’t feel nearly as premium as that used in competing products, including the Bragi line and Apple’s own AirPods) they have withstood a lot of high intensity use, including wear in light rain and a lot of sweat testing. Their durability seems proven, and I’ve had a few weeks with them to identify any problem spots.

The other area where wireless earbuds tend to fall down is in connectivity – Bluetooth headsets are one thing, but totally wireless buds have two connectivity challenges to deal with. The NuForce Free8 performed well here, too, with very few dropouts during normal use. The one caveat here is that I did very occasionally have audio interruptions when my phone was in my right pocket front pants pocket, since they maintain their Bluetooth connection with your smartphone from the left earbud. These dropouts were very few and far between, however, and even the small number that did occur were easily remedied just by switching the pocket where I keep my phone.

Sound quality is also good. You’ll hear a bit of low-level background hum during the most quiet parts, but it’s hard to pick up, and the audio quality when music and podcasts are playing sound great, with good bass levels and excellent sound reproduction that sounds balanced overall. Sound isolation is also effective, providing a good seal in my experience for passively blocking out the surrounding street noise.

When compared to most totally wireless buds out there, the Free8 is definitely towards the top of the group. It’s still an area where there’s room for improvement vs. wired buds, but these will definitely meet the needs of most users when it comes to sound reproduction, for both podcasts and music or video watching.

The case they ship with, in addition to holding backup charges for the headphones, also has indicator lights on the front for telling you when the buds are charging and when they’re charged up, which is a nice touch when compared to the AirPods case from Apple. It also includes a micro USB port for charging, which is not great for longevity – only accessories have micro USB now, with just above every Android smartphone maker having moved to USB C other latest devices.

The NuForce BE Free8’s biggest strength might be their $149 asking price, however, which is under that of many of its competitors. The earbuds also feature hardware button controls, which is another nice plus. If you’re looking for a pair of totally wireless earbuds that aren’t tied to Apple’s platform, this is a good, if somewhat unexpected, place to look.

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