Summarizing 2016 is best done by going through the highs and lows — well, mostly lows.
As this turbulent year comes to a close, GadgetMatch presents a total of 16 unforgettable moments and polarizing announcements that have shaped the past twelve months.
This is going to be a long read, so let’s get right to it.
Hit: Google releases its own smartphones to positive reception
Google’s Pixel and larger Pixel XL have been experiencing great critical and commercial success — so much so that Google’s third-party partners, specifically Samsung and LG, are caught in an upstream, and the Nexus program has been set aside for now. The search giant is showing manufacturers how to do Android right, but one question remains leading into 2017: Where’s Android One headed?
Miss: Samsung recalls its greatest phone ever
This has to be the most heart-wrenching miss on this list. The recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 caused such an impact on the tech industry, we’ll still be feeling it well into 2017. It’s a shame really, as many media outlets — including ours — praised the stylus-equipped smartphone as not just the best smartphone this year, but even the greatest Android device ever made.
Miss: Apple lets go of everyone’s favorite port
No bit of tech news this year harmed mainstream audiences as much as Apple’s removal of the audio jack in its latest crop of iPhones. It’s a move marketing head Phil Schiller believes takes “courage,” but we think it has more to do with consumerism, making people buy new pairs of wireless headphones which Apple coincidentally markets together with partner company Beats.
Hit: Nintendo cares about our childhoods
Nintendo clearly won the award for coolest gift to buy your parents, yourself, or even your kids this holiday season. The miniature Famicom and NES consoles are always sold out wherever they’re available, and why not? They’re incredibly affordable, come preloaded with 30 classic games, and make you relive all those bitter sibling rivalries during childhood.
Miss: Android Nougat never really took off
It’s been four months since Android 7.0 Nougat began rolling out, but a total of only 0.4 percent of consumer devices actually have it today. To make matters worse, an even newer Android 7.1 came out already, and support for the more widespread Android 2.3 Gingerbread will be discontinued early next year. Google has a lot of ground to cover until Android 8.0 launches next year.
Miss: Smartwatches are going the way of the dodo
How many people do you know constantly wear a smartwatch? Exactly. Sales have been slumping, and even though the latest version of Android Wear is set to release early 2017, brands like Motorola and Samsung aren’t keen on applying Google’s smartwatch operating system, opting instead to either give up completely or use their own interface.
Hit: Chinese smartphone brands reach new heights
Chinese smartphone brands ruled 2016. Yes, Apple is still on top when it comes to total profit, raking in 91 percent of all smartphone revenue last quarter, but the global rise of Huawei, OPPO, and Vivo is unprecedented. And it’ll only get better with these Asian companies making a stronger push in the western hemisphere during the next few months.
Miss: Project Ara doesn’t see the light of day, sort of
We were so disappointed to hear this news: After years of development and hopeful demos, Google’s modular Project Ara smartphone never entered the mass production phase. Fortunately, an actual prototype of the project leaked last month, but all it did was remind us how much potential was wasted.
Miss: GoPro suffers financially and recalls Karma drone
GoPro has been the go-to brand for all things action camera since its conception. Now, unfortunately, its profits have plunged, and mishaps like the recall of its ambitious Karma drone doesn’t help maintain a positive image for the brand. GoPro will need some divine intervention to make up for its 40 percent drop in sales as compared to 2015.
Hit: Apple finally updates its MacBook lineup
After years and years of minor refreshes, Apple finally launched what we’ve all been waiting for: an all-new MacBook Pro. With so many changes — such as the new keyboard and loss of several important connectivity ports — it feels like a totally new product, but the true innovation comes in the Touch Bar, which is open to endless support from third-party developers.
Miss: BlackBerry gives up on hardware
In what was the least surprising yet still heartbreaking news, BlackBerry has halted all plans for designing its own smartphones. Instead, the entire development and manufacturing process is now in the hands of third-party companies, to the disgruntlement of long-time fans. The awkwardly named BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60 are simply rebranded midrange Alcatel handsets with added security, courtesy of BB.
Hit: Xiaomi cuts in front of innovation line
We’ve seen hundreds of leaks and prototypes that never got turned into actual commercial products, but Xiaomi went ahead and pulled the trigger with its Mi Mix concept phone. Just look at its massive near-borderless display, ceramic-encased design, and high-end specifications — has Xiaomi set the standard for what smartphones will strive to be in 2017?
Miss: LG fails modular experiment
For every successful modular phone, there are a few that fail. LG had its first attempt with the flagship G5 earlier this year, but a not-so-great reception to its not-that-intuitive execution lead to the Korean company possibly junking it completely. The recently launched V20 doesn’t have modularity either, so Lego-like phones are probably better left as works in progress for now.
Hit: World goes crazy for Pokémon Go
No single game has caused as much controversy as Pokémon Go this year. The augmented reality app invaded smartphones all over the world, making developer Niantec filthy rich in the process. We ourselves got swept into the craze, writing comprehensive guides for getting started and finding the best spots for those rare creatures.
Miss: ASUS jacks up this year’s ZenFone prices
ASUS made waves in 2015 with ZenFones that had unmatched horsepower for their price points, effectively forming a booming segment of bang-for-buck phones we still see today. A year later, when the Taiwan-based company released the outrageously priced ZenFone 3 series, formerly loyal fans have been jumping ship for more affordable offerings.
Miss: Yahoo goes up for adoption
How the mighty have fallen — Yahoo was so wealthy at one point, it could have bought Google. Instead, the former internet giant got bought by Verizon for only $5 billion; that’s a huge drop from its $125-billion valuation back in 2000! The nail in the coffin came when news broke about 500 million Yahoo accounts getting hacked — two years after the breach actually happened.
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Netflix knows what you want and lets you watch without buffering
The best binge-watching experience!
Are you one of the millions of Netflix subscribers like I am? If you are (or even not), I have something interesting to share about how Netflix makes their streaming service the best in the business.
For those who don’t know, Netflix is not what they were before. The company started off as a DVD-rental business — just like your favorite local rental stores back when they were popular. It was in 2007 when they launched their streaming service formerly branded as Watch Now. It was restricted to just PCs and you needed the right browser to be able to play their videos.
It was also in 2007 when the first iPhone from Apple was announced, so two pioneers were born that year and they have yet to properly meet each other.
Netflix formally launched their mobile app in 2010 and it changed how we consume content on our phones. Today, more than 60 percent of Netflix members use the mobile app every month. This is why the company is continuously working to make long-form videos more enjoyable on mobile.
When I say enjoyable, it’s not just about showing in HDR, because there’s more to it than just high resolutions.
First, there is personalization. Netflix considers this very important because of the limited screen space on mobile phones, so you have to see the titles you really like first. This feature is not just on mobile; it’s also available on any internet-enabled device you have Netflix on, whether it’s a TV, laptop, tablet, or even game console.
If you can recall, Netflix added mobile previews to their app earlier this year. This lets users get a sneak peek of the content without leaving the homepage and make choosing a show much faster. It works well on mobile since it’s presented in vertical format — no need to turn the orientation of the phone.
Then we have the new feature called Smart Downloads which is currently available on Android phones and tablets. What this does is it identifies the show being watched and automatically downloads the next episode over a Wi-Fi network. It then automatically deletes the downloaded episode after it’s completed. Basically, Netflix makes sure that you can continue watching the next episode while you’re on the road without using up your data plan.
Speaking of saving data, Netflix is also working round-the-clock to make encoding much better. Thankfully, they know how mobile data can be expensive or slow in certain places.
Back then, Netflix streamed their shows in a “one-size-fits-all” bitrate which is great for high-quality streaming but it consumed too much data. Good thing they learned that not all content requires the same encoding bitrate, so they based it on individual titles. 2D animation shows can be compressed at a low bitrate but still be streamed in high quality, while action-packed titles will be meticulously compressed to avoid any compression artifacts.
Netflix didn’t stop there. Their latest innovation called Dynamic Optimizer Encoding now selects the best encoding recipe per shot. Each shot is dynamically encoded to ensure best overall quality which results in, according to Netflix, 64 percent less bandwidth consumption.
Before all this, users could only watch seven hours of content on mobile using 4GB of data. Since the implementation in 2015, viewers can now enjoy 10 hours, and with the per-shot encoding, members can binge-watch for 26 hours with the same amount of data. Soon, this will reach up to 33 hours using the latest AV1 codec which is something Netflix is currently working on.
Pixel’s Night Sight now available — here are samples
It delivers when it matters
Night Sight, which is an additional mode that improves low-light performance in the Pixel camera app, is now available for download from the Google Play Store for all three generations of Pixel.
It was teased during the launch of the Pixel 3, and I even got a chance to test it early thanks to third-party developers, but it’s only now we’re seeing the final product.
Not much has changed since my first experiment, but I do feel that the UI around it has been refined. It’s a free update, so why complain? In fact, it’s an awesome addition to an already-great camera app.
What’s cool is that it works wonders for the worst lighting conditions, and even applies to the front camera if you really must take a selfie in the dark. Just keep your handheld shot a little steadier — no need for a tripod here.
I was fortunate enough to take the final Night Sight build with me on a trip this week, and I must say it’s impressive when needed most.
Here are some samples with and without Night Sight:
And there we have it. Night Sight isn’t always required, but makes a world of difference when it counts. It can pretty much see in darkness.
For lots of instances, though, Auto mode was sufficient. But that isn’t to say Night Sight isn’t revolutionary; it simply means the Pixel camera’s HDR rendering is still in a class of its own and doesn’t always need assistance.
The rollout of the update may take a few days to complete. Be patient, as it’s definitely worth the wait.
Her Holiday Gift Guide: Presents for the different types of women in your life
Tis the season!
May it be a sister, a mother, a friend, or a lover, this holiday season is the perfect time to appreciate the women in your life. But, different women have different needs so I’ve rounded up a number of great gift ideas and the type of ladies they’d be perfect for.
For the skincare lover
Something to pamper her with! The Foreo UFO offers a home facial mask treatment like no other. Great skin has never been this attainable! This tiny thing is capable of LED light therapy, thermotherapy, and cryotherapy. There are also a number of great face sheets to choose from.
For the fitness buff
For those who aspire for a healthier life, the Fitbit Versa is the perfect gift. Doing what Fitbit does best, the Versa tracks all your health data plus it has smartwatch capabilities! It comes in rose gold and looks pretty with all the great-looking strap options.
For the stylish
Cutting-edge tech for hair styling comes in the form of Dyson’s Airwrap. It’s every girl’s mane dream (pun intended). This iron uses hot air and the British brand’s vacuum technology to make sure hair is curled and not damaged in the process. Oh, and it doesn’t only curl; there are different hair attachments for multiple hair types so you can achieve many looks.
For the sentimental
To help her capture priceless and fleeting moments, get her a Polaroid OneStep+. This pretty camera looks reminiscent of the original Polaroid OneStep; yes, it’s very pretty! Aside from taking great Polaroid photos, this instant camera can now connect to an app. Talk about added fun!
For the traveler
Make her feel safe and look good. Travelon anti-theft bags are perfect to bring on trips. Equipped with RFID-blocking tech, slash-proof material, and locking zippers, these are bags that will leave you with peace of mind without compromising your outfit.
For the homemaker
Make cleaning a breeze with Xiaomi’s Mi robot vacuum. This smart device will clean every inch of your home with a tap on your smartphone. With the Mi Home app, you’ll be able to check which areas the robot has vacuumed and you can even schedule cleaning sessions remotely. And no, this thing won’t fall down the stairs or run over your pets.
For the audiophile
iPods are not a thing anymore but this awesome music player is! The Mighty Music Player is a music streaming device — yes, that means you can listen to your Spotify sounds even without your phone. It comes in yummy colors, too.
For the woman on the go
These colorful Bluetooth earphones are not only wireless, but they’re also smart. Honor’s new Flypods look cool with the teal color option, plus it can answer calls, has wireless charging, and responds to touch control.
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