HomePod Sounds Great, Siri Sucks; Pixel 2 Visual Core Works With Apps; France Bans Handheld Smartphone Use in Cars; Military-Self Driving Vehicles & Auto Weapons

A number of reviews are out for Apple’s HomePod. According to 9to5mac.com (as I am way too small potatoes to have actually gotten a review unit), reviewers are pretty universally impressed with the HomePod’s great sound. On the other hand, they hate the stupidity of Siri compared to Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The semi-smart speaker also gets knocks for being a closed system (like Apple would ever make it otherwise!) It won’t work with Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, etc. If you have all your music on Apple’s system, and love great sound with tight, loud, punchy bass and crisp highs, that sounds good anywhere in the room, by all means…go for it.

Google’s Pixel 2 had gotten accolades from it’s great camera app. The pix are just great on its proprietary processor Now, techcrunch.com says Google is opening up that tech to third party apps. As of today, it will work on Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Snapchat if you update the software. That software is showing up as part of the monthly software update today…although it may take a day or two to get to you…your mileage may vary.

Love ‘em…hate ‘em, it’s often fun to pick on the French. Now, they’ve done something that may have their own citizens up in arms. 9to5google.com reports that France has banned hand held smartphone use in cars…EVEN if the car is sitting still with the engine off! Apparently, France changed their legal definition of driving to include everything except being parked off-road or in a designated parking spot! The fine is 135 Euros, and points on your license, same as if you were motoring down the road doing it. I suspect the French may invent a new hand sign to display in protest of this!

Welcome to the future and our new, robotic overlords! The military is now testing autonomous vehicles equipped with robotic weapons systems! According to zdnet.com, the Army has announced ‘Wingman,’ and they have successfully destroyed targets from a self-driving Hummer with an autonomous 7.62mm weapon system. The Army claims that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a human soldier in the loop, making the decisions.

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10 Most Searched for Consumer Tech Products

Because we all love lists, and anyway….it lets me channel my inner Casey Kasem, what were the most searched for consumer tech products this past year? According to Google’s Year in Search report, here are the top 10 hottest items people were looking for:

10- The Samsung Galaxy Note 8…even with the firey demise of the popular Note 7, the Note 8 was widely anticipated by fans of the 7.

At #9, the Apple Watch 3…mainly propelled by the addition of cellular connectivity and improved health and fitness tracking.

The 8th biggest search item was Google’s own Pixel 2 smartphones. The model 1 had a shakey start, but the Pixel 2 looks like a big hit for Google.

At #7, the Super NES Classic…the $80  pint-sized version of the original Super NES that plays 21 built-in games.

The 6th most searched for consumer tech item was the iPhone 8 Plus…which has better internals than the 7 Plus and wireless charging in Apple’s biggest handset.

Holding down #5, and a bit of a surprise…the Razer phone. The maker of gaming computers and accessories touts the Razer’s incredibly smooth visual images in their first phone, priced at $700.

The fourth most searched item was Samsung’s hot selling Galaxy S8 smartphone, with its beautiful wrap around screen and wireless charging.

#3 was the Nintendo Switch, which has been a runaway smash hit for Nintendo. The Switch has sold over 10 million since March.

The #2 spot was taken by Apple’s widely anticipated all glass iPhone 10, or X as some people call it. The thousand dollar hero phone with no home button was eclipsed by Apple’s own iPhone 8…which was the #1 most searched consumer tech item of 2017.


Google Tested a Pixel 2 Wake to Shoot Feature; Broadcom Offers to Buy Qualcomm; Foxconn Added as Apple Watch Supplier; Tesla Invite To Truck Reveal is Out

It hasn’t been activated yet, but 9to5google.com has discovered a wake to shoot gesture that activates the camera. Basically, when you pick it up and hold it in either landscape or portrait picture mode, the camera app opens. It will work whether the phone is asleep or locked. The feature requires specific hardware. It’s not known if Google has held off due to concerns of launching the cam by mistake or couldn’t finish some work before launch, but let’s hope it comes in the future!

An offer is in the works that will be the biggest tech deal ever. Broadcom has proposed buying rival Qualcomm for $130 billion. According to businessinsider.com, this would make Broadcom the third largest maker of chips and components for smartphones behind Intel and Samsung. It also might make the Qualcomm vs Apple lawsuit go away. As we reported last week, Apple is looking at ditching Qualcomm completely over that, and Apple is one of Qualcomm’s biggest customers that throws off most of the modem division’s revenue. The merger would have to be approved by shareholders and the Department of Justice due to antitrust concerns.

Foxconn is apparently supplying System in Package tech for Apple Watch next year. 9to5mac.com reports that Quanta Computer was the original sole assembler of the smartwatch, and Apple added Compal Electronics this year, but only for older generation watches. Like many huge companies, Apple likes to have 2 or more suppliers for major components, to avoid getting gouged on price and unexpected supply chain jam ups.

The invite is out, and so’s the date. Tesla will preview its electric big rig on November 16th, in Hawthorne, CA. at 7 in the evening. Cnet.com notes that the twilight shot of the truck is from the right front quarter…the only other tease pic we’ve seen was from the front…yep…it just looks like the outline of a more zoomy big rig.


Galaxy S9 Will Be Major Redesign; Pixel 2 Getting Even Better Pictures In Software Update; Amazon Launches Countdown to Black Friday Deals; Sony Revives Robot Dog

Samsung is busily working on the Galaxy S9, and word is, it will be a major redesign. Bgr.com says you can expect echoes of the iPhone X, to the surprise of no one. Rumors include 3D facial recognition, dual 16 MP cameras, and dual 12 MP selfie cams, with a nearly all screen display. It looks like it will be offered with either a 5.8 inch or 6.2 inch screen for the S9 and S9+. There are still rumblings of an under screen fingerprint sensor, but if the 3D face recognition is widely accepted on the Apple iPhone X, Samsung may drop that feature.

The Pixel 2 and 2 XL already have a terrific camera. Now, according to 9to5google.com, it’s going to get even better. Apparently Google baked in a custom chipset that improves HDR+ functionality. It didn’t make it into the 1st developer release of Android 8.1, but it looks like they will flip it on for the 2nd developer preview of Android 8.1. It should be widely available in time for the holidays!

Countdown to Black Friday is here! Amazon has launched their run up sales to the big sale day today. Bgr.com says look for a 65 inch 4K Samsung TV for under a grand, a refurbished Dyson Ball vacuum for only $150, and more. Hit Amazon’s Countdown to Black Friday page for other bargains.

Woof! Sony has revived its AIBO robot dog. Theverge.com reports that the new dog’s eyes use a couple of OLED panels to show a range of expressions, and that your robot dog can bond with you for up to two hours at a time…with 3 hours recharge time. If you ever wanted a dog that finally gets tired of chasing the ball, this one will after 2 hours! It’s controlled by an app, and you can purchase additional ‘tricks’ from an app store….requiring a $26 a month subscription. Besides that ongoing fee, the robot dog will set you back $1700. Preorders start today.


iPhone 8 Sales Sluggish; Google Addressing Pixel 2 Screen Issues; India Passes Up US

It appears LOTS of people have been holding out for this morning’s preorder of iPhone X. 9to5mac.com reports that purchase data from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners shows the iPhone 8 is selling less than an S model has in the past. iPhone 8 and Plus models were only 16% of all iPhone sales last quarter, compared with 24% for the 6S and 6S Plus models. We won’t know for a while how iPhone X is selling or will sell, but it basically sold out immediately earlier this morning, with shipping estimates not at 5 to 6 weeks wait time. There will be a very limited number in stores next Friday, November 3, if you love standing in line and taking your chances. **Update: iPhone X reportedly sold out in 38 minutes early this morning.

Complaints have been flying about screens on the new Google Pixel 2 models…colors faded, screen burn of previous images, strange shades of blue at off-axis viewing angles, and on top of those, a high pitched ‘clicking’ during calls. Google says, they are investigating all, and a Google forum post says they are addressing them in an Android update. For the colors, they are adding a ‘saturated’ mode to the ‘vivid’ mode already included. To eliminate the burn effect, they are dropping the screen brightness by 50 nits…an amount that is nearly undetectable to the naked eye. A software fix is coming for the clicking, but you can turn off NFC to fix in the meantime. To ease fears of the bugs, Google has extended the warranty of all Pixel 2 and 2 XL models to two years.

‘We’re number…three?’ Yep, India has passed the US, and is now the world’s #2 smartphone market, behind China. According to techcrunch.com, India exceeded 40 million phones in the 3rd quarter. Looking at India’s 1.3 billion population compared to the US with 320 million, it seems unlikely that the US will regain the slot. China remains far and away the leader with 110 million shipped per quarter.


Pixel 2 Takes Top Cam Spot from iPhone 8 and Galaxy Note 8; Netflix is Upping Prices; Zunum Rolls Out Electric Plane

For now, at least, the new Google Pixel 2 reigns supreme in smartphone cameras…scoring a 98 in DxO Labs’ test. The iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 tied at 94. Macrumors.com notes that the Google phone may not have the top spot for long…Apple’s iPhone X will be out in late November. The lab tests found the cam was nearly flawless except in very low light images, but had ‘amazing’ ability to render detail in both the bright and dark areas of difficult scenes. If you didn’t preorder one yesterday, prepare to wait…a lot of models are sold out!

Just in time for me to grumble about it when the new season of ‘Stranger Things’ debuts later this month, Netflix has raised prices. According to businessinsider.com, the cheapie plan stays at $7.99…but the most popular ‘standard plan,’ which scores you HD and 2 simultaneous streams, jumps from $9.99 to $10.99 a month. The Cadillac plan that has 4K video and 4 simultaneous streams goes form $11.99 to $13.99. Netflix says they know people don’t like price increases, but will be spending almost $7 billion on content next year, including their own productions.

Seattle area based Zunum has unveiled its electric powered airplane, slated for first deliveries in 2022. Geekwire.com says the company has added a second development center in Chicago, in addition to what they have in Kirkland, WA. They are shooting for flight testing to start in 2019 and deliveries in 2022. Eventually, they hope to crank out a couple hundred of the thousand mile range electric planes per year. They expect most to to to regional air carriers…noting that with today’s hub and spoke system, there are some 5,000 underserved airports in the US. The plane can carry 12 passengers in economy type configuration, or 6 in executive travel mode.


Google Rolls out Pixels and Adds to the Line; Sonos Bows New Speaker

The highly anticipated Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL today. The XL has a whopping 6 inch OLED screen, all aluminum body, and better image stabilization…although still a single lens cam. Cnet.com reports that it supports AR Core, the Google AR programming interface. The HTC made phone has the squeezable sides to activate Google Assistant, and has always on display for notifications. The handsets are on pre-order now, and start at $649 for the 2 and $849 for the 2XL…they should be on the streets in a couple weeks.

Google Pixel Buds were also rolled out…the earbuds are joined by a neck cord and have a charging case that gives you up to 24 hours use. They work with Google Assistant on Pixel phones, are available in black, white, and blue, and preorders have started. They run $159, and are available next month.

Also bowing today where Google Home Mini and Home Max. The Mini is a smaller version of the Home Assistant speaker, while the Max is geared more towards the audiophile. The max goes on preorder in November, and will be available in December for $399.The Mini can be preordered now, and is $49…should be out in a couple weeks.

The Google PixelBook was also rolled out…a replacement for the Chromebook Pixel of 2 years ago. It’s still Chrome OS, but has Android app support, and quick charges for up to 10 hours battery life. It has instant tethering to Pixel phones, and Google Assistant is baked in. The PixelBooks start a $999, can be preordered now, and will be out the end of the month.

Google also showed an updated Daydream View. It’s $99, and available October 19th. A surprise reveal is Google Clips…a standalone cam that captures short clips. It auto-selects and learns who you want in shots and which shots, and builds clips from them…then uploads on demand. No release date, but it will be $249.

Sonos has rolled out the new One wireless speaker. According to 9to5mac.com, it has Alexa voice control, and will support AirPlay 2 by the first of the year. It doesn’t actually have Siri, but with the Airplay function, can be controlled by any Siri enabled device like iPhones and iPads. It’s $199, and will be out October 24th…preorders are open now.